Painting on Location >
"Chalk Cliffs" by Don Demers

Painting On Location > Artist Don Demers shares his insights, motivations, and creative process for his maritime and landscape paintings. 

Observations From the Waterfront

Don Demers gives a demonstration while painting on location in “Mastering a Nautical Scene” (learn more about the art workshop here).


Since I was a small boy I’ve been interested in being a “picture maker.” That interest led me to a career as an illustrator, with a strong emphasis on maritime subjects.

I was fascinated by the ability and process of making a story come alive through a picture. Many of the illustrators of the early twentieth century became my heroes and I was devoted to continuing on in the traditions of American illustration. While illustration was the dominant mark of my early career, I was at the same time evolving as a painter.

Today my primary inspiration and motive is not to carry a storyline with my painting, but to have a human experience be manifest on the canvas. This is most often brought about through working on location; however, that does not preclude working from memory or imagination. All three of these disciplines play a role in my work.

I now attempt to be motivated by non-visual factors; in other words, any of the emotional or intellectual responses a human being can have to the world—excitement, tranquility, fear, and so on. I want the visual components in my paintings to simply be the mechanism or the vehicle by which my experience is carried and shared with an audience.

As mentioned, my creative process and approach to painting involves a few different strategies and methods. When I’m working on location, one of my primary tenets (and one that I emphasize with my students) is what I call “visual veracity.” I think it’s very important to develop your skills of observation and your technical abilities to be able to portray your subject truthfully. With this prerequisite accomplished, I believe you can embark on your personal journey and creative goal by editing the scene to suit your intention.

In addition to this approach, visual memory plays an enormous role in my process. Allowing imagery to evolve through my personal “filter” distills the imagery into what I hope will be a true and unencumbered representation of my idea. Visual memory allows the superfluous to disappear and the salient elements to emerge.

Lastly, when I’m creating a narrative painting (typically a marine subject), my work adheres to a storyline. My pictorial decisions are in the service of bringing out the details, facts and essence of the story. This requires study of the subject and a more academic approach to painting.

Painting On Location and From Imagination

Painting on Location - seascape
Don Demers, “Bass Rocks,” 16 x 24 inches, oil on mounted linen

“Bass Rocks”

I was taken by the color and abstraction of the rock formations and their relationship to the surrounding water. The painting (“Bass Rocks,” above) was created mostly on location with a few touches in the studio. The experience of taking in the water’s movement and the sounds of it wrapping around the rocks made for an engaging sensory experience.

Maritime art - paintings of boats by Don Demers
Don Demers, “A Lift to Windward,” 24 x 36 inches, Oil on mounted linen

“A Lift to Windward”

This is an example of my narrative maritime paintings. These are historical scenes; I envision them through studying old archives and readings. I have a pretty thorough working knowledge of sailing vessels, a penchant for history, and firsthand experience as a landscape and seascape painter, all of which combine to allow me the opportunity to create this type of work.

Don Demers, "On the Hard," 9 x 12 inches, Oil on mounted linen
Don Demers, “On the Hard,” 9 x 12 inches, Oil on mounted linen

“On the Hard”

This painting was created entirely on location. Although it may not be apparent to the viewer, there is heavy editing in this painting. I was after the stark simplicity of this workboat sitting in the sun by these ubiquitous buildings—a simple story. To achieve that I had to remove a lot of elements from the scene including moving pickup trucks.

Don Demers, "Early Spring, Union, Maine," 8 x 10 inches, Oil on mounted linen
Don Demers, “Early Spring, Union, Maine,” 8 x 10 inches, Oil on mounted linen

“Early Spring, Union, Maine”

I did this painting in one session on location in the company of my painting friend T. Allen Lawson. The subject matter was so simple and honest and the faint smell of earth all inspired me. Visually I loved the mosaic pattern of the fields and the buildings and the harmonious balance they created.

Painting on Location - seascape
Don Demers, “Running High,” 9 x 12 inches, Oil on mounted linen

“Running High”

This painting is an example of working from my visual memory and my imagination. When traveling and painting outdoors, I’m often confronted with a fleeting and mutable phenomenon that happens too quickly to capture in paint. When this occurs, I take the time to pay attention and allow the imagery to engrain itself in my mind and psyche. I don’t use a camera in the field and instead rely on cultivating my visual memory and attention. The work that comes from this experience often has an overt design in the final form as my personal aesthetic plays an important role in composing these works back in the studio.

Learn more about Don at:

No one paints boats, harbors, and the sea like master marine painter Don Demers. We take you to a working lobster dock in Maine to watch him paint a landscape featuring water, boats, trees, and a mountain background. You’ll learn Don’s step-by-step technique for painting marine subjects, and how he captures the genuine feel of the scene.

Preview “Don Demers: Mastering a Nautical Scene” here:

Learn more and get your copy today to paint better nautical scenes!


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